Tag Archives: algae

Contemporary Artistic Arrangements of Microscopic Diatoms by Klaus Kemp 

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Ever since exploring slides of arranged diatoms earlier this year from the California Academy of Sciences, I was left with one small question: how? Diatoms are tiny single-cell algae encased in jewel-like shells that are among the smallest organisms on Earth of which there are an estimated 100,000 extant species. How does one go about finding, capturing, cleaning, organizing, and arranging these artistic displays that are so small they are measured in microns?

One such person who asked these questions was Klaus Kemp who became fascinated by some of the earliest diatom arrangements dating back to the Victorian era. Kemp has since dedicated his life to the study and perfection of modern day diatom arrangements, and his works are among the most complex being made today. Filmmaker Matthew Killip recently sat down with Kemp and learned more about his process in this short film called the Diatomist.

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Artistic Arrangements of Microscopic Algae Viewed Through a Microscope 

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Photograph of diatoms collected in Russia and arranged on a microscope slide in 1952 by A.L. Brigger.

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Photograph of fossil diatoms collected in Pt. Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California, and arranged on a microscope slide in 1968 by A.L. Brigger.

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Black and white photograph of fossil radiolaria arranged on a slide by R.F. Behan. The slide label reads “Prize Medal Paris 1867 Polycystina; Springfield, Barbados.” The arrangement is approximately 3 millimeters in diameter.

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Photograph of diatoms arranged on a microscope slide by W.M. Grant.

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Photograph of diatoms arranged on a microscope slide by W.M. Grant.

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Photograph of diatoms arranged in October 1974 on a microscope slide by R.I. Firth. The slide label reads “Selected species from Californian fossil marine localities. To Mrs. G Dallas Hanna with compliments.”

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Photograph of Arachnoidiscus diatoms collected in the Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County, California and arranged on a microscope slide by R.F. Behan.

In a fascinating blend of art and science the California Academy of Sciences possesses a rare collection of microscopic diatom arrangements. Diatoms are a major group of algae that are among the smallest organisms on Earth, of which nearly 100,000 different species are estimated to exist. While there are numerous examples of diatoms that have been photographed for scientific study, these particular scientists hobbyists seem to have gone a different direction, instead turning these tiny unicellular lifeforms into mandala-like artworks. The tiny designs are all the more amazing when you consider most of them would fit on the head of a nail. You can see more examples right here. Photos by Sara Mansfield. (via Synaptic Stimuli)

Update: The California Academy of Sciences clarifies that these arrangements, despite being produced with scientific tools, are purely aesthetic, and were produced by hobbyists, not scientists.

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